Feeds

Security by obscurity not so bad after all, argues prof

Game theory suggests secrecy has some uses

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Security by obscurity may not be so bad after all, according to a provocative new research paper that questions long-held security maxims.

The Kerckhoffs' Principle holds that withholding information on how a system works is no security defence. A second accepted principle is that a defender has to defend against all possible attack vectors, whereas the attacker only needs to find one overlooked flaw to be successful, the so-called fortification principle.

However a new research paper from Prof Dusko Pavlovic of Royal Holloway, University of London, applies game theory to the conflict between hackers and security defenders in suggesting system security can be improved by making it difficult for attackers to figure out how their mark works. For example, adding a layer of obfuscation to a software application can make it harder to reverse engineer.

Pavlovic compares security to a game in which each side has incomplete information. Far from being powerless against attacks, a defender ought to be able to gain an advantage (or at least level the playing field) by examining an attacker's behaviour and algorithms while disguising defensive moves. At the same time defenders can benefit by giving away as few clues about their defensive posture as possible, an approach that the security by obscurity principle might suggest is futile.

Public key encryption works on the basis that making the algorithm used to derive a code secret is useless and codes, to be secure, need to be complex enough so that they can't be unpicked using a brute force attack. As computer power increases we therefore need to increase the length of an encryption key in order outstrip the computational power an attacker might have at his disposal. This still hold true for cryptography, as Pavlovic acknowledges, but may not be case in other scenarios.

Pavlovic argues that an attacker's logic or programming capabilities, as well as the computing resources at their disposal, might also be limited, suggesting that potential shortcomings in this area can be turned to the advantage of system defenders.

The paper, which is likely to spawn a lively debate, Gaming security by obscurity, can be found here. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Researcher sat on critical IE bugs for THREE YEARS
VUPEN waited for Pwn2Own cash while IE's sandbox leaked
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.